Friday, May 31, 2019

What is Chasing Duck? written by Jan Thomas, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This is the 2nd book in the Giggle Gang series. After they figured out who the pest was, the silly group of animals is worried about something scary that is chasing them. Duck is in a panic, and with each friend he encounters he gets even more panicked because they feed off each other’s fear. Sheep was the first friend that Duck ran to. He said, “you say it’s something wild and hairy?” Sheep imagines the worst and starts to run with Duck. Big teeth get added to this picture of a horrid monster, until Dog finally tells them to stop and face their fears. How bad could it be? Turns out, it’s not so bad. Unfortunately, a misunderstanding occurs and now squirrel is running for his life from the big, scary monster. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: This silly story is to be expected from this unlikely group of friends. Everyone wants to help their friend, but no one quite knows how to. They just run. The looks of panic on their faces will have young readers howling with laughter. Especially when they see who really was chasing duck. This is a fun book that is a good read aloud and young readers will quickly want to read it aloud too. In fact, this will probably be one of those books that will be read over and over. It’s a lot of fun. It will appeal to readers looking for fiction animal books. It will be a good choice for independent reading and will probably circulate a lot in your school library.

There's a pest in the garden! written by Jan Thomas, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: There is a pest in the garden eating all the food. Everyone is worried as to what the pest will eat next, especially duck. First the beans, then the corn. The corn was sheep’s favorite and now he is quite sad. Donkey was pretty happy that all he peas got eaten, since he does not like them. Duck gets louder with his quacks. Duck comes up with a plan. This plan involves eating all the turnips. Everyone is puzzled, pest is mad and a fence goes up to keep out pest in the future. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: This book will have younger readers giggling with every outraged quack. Readers may ask themselves why pest is eating all the food because it’s not very nice. A lot of work went into planting the garden. The size of the font tells the reader how loud the word should be. The illustrations are quite funny and the emotions on the characters faces add a lot to the story. The colors are bold, bright and happy. Readers will have to decide if pest was really a pest or if duck was the pest. This is a great read aloud book. It would be a perfect book before planting a class garden or growing seeds. It might inspire readers to plant their own gardens. This book would make a good addition to a spring themed book display. This book will quickly become a favorite.

Bizzy Mizz Lizzie, written by David Shannon, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: Lizzie is a very busy bee. She works hard at school, takes dance, acting, art and music lessons. She also plays baseball and is a member of the Junior Honey Scouts. Her goal was to meet the Queen and impress her with all that she does. Lizzie did spend time with friends, but they were always doing things. A Spelling Contest was announced and the winner would get to meet the Queen. Lizzie was determined to win. Lizzie focused all her energy on studying. She was very tired but kept on studying. Lizzie fell asleep at the worst possible moment. She regretted some of her decisions, but decided that maybe it was time to stop and smell the flowers. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: This is a very bright, bold and busy book! Young readers will love the colors and the story. I think a lot of readers will be able to empathize with Lizzie, especially if their own lives are very busy. The story conveys the message that taking time to just enjoy life is what we all need sometimes. This book is a great addition to a elementary school library. If you are in a IB PYP library, this book is a great one to teach the Learner Profile attributes of balanced and reflective. If you have readers who are David Shannon fans, this is a must have. This would be a great book for a bee themed book display. It makes for a good independent reading choice, but also works well as a read aloud. I definitely recommend it. 

Grand Canyon, written by Jason Chin, reviewed by Caroline Rabideau

Summary: Grand Canyon is a non-fiction picture book for older or more advanced readers. In picture book format, it discusses the animal life currently residing in the Canyon, as well as the animals that used to live here. It talks about how the canyon was formed, with layers of rock building upon each other, as well as rivers carved out from the rock, and how these formations provide a suitable home for hundreds of animals. It talks about the climate in different areas of the canyon, and different vegetation that grows in each area as a result. Throughout the whole book, it follows a young hiker and her father. They are hiking through the canyon and making these observations. But they also use the young girl to show what it would have been like thousands of years ago, by setting her in the prehistoric scene.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This is one of my favorite books I’ve picked up this year. The illustrations are beautiful, and I have spent quite a great deal of time staring at each page, amazed by the detail. Every inch of the page is used to illustrate what the text is trying to explain. Often borders are used to list examples, or cut outs in the page are used to show what once created a fossil. The text is packed full of facts, giving understandable explanations for words like erosion. I believe this book would be great in a science classroom to introduce how rock formations and rivers come to be, or to
begin a unit on fossils. I believe the beautiful pictures will interest many students into picking it
up as an independent reading selection. It could also be used in a research project about locations or landmarks. Grand Canyon would be beautiful on a United States landmark display in a library. I will note, the text is dense, so while the pictures may appeal to younger students, I would not recommend for lower than 3rd grade, unless they have a lot of assistance in reading it. Overall, I highly recommend this book. I have purchased a few copies for family birthdays, etc. I am just blown away by how beautiful a non-fiction
book can be, while still including so much information. I am hopeful that the publisher will continue to make similar books about other US Landmarks. 

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Brave Like My Brother, written by Marc Tyler Nobleman, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This book is a series of letters between Joe, who just arrived in England after joining the war effort in 1942, and his younger brother Charlie, who lives in Cleveland, Ohio. Charlie writes about being bullied and Joe feels bad that his is not there to protect his younger brother. He draws a comparison to war being like a real life bully. Joe talks about the grueling training, what they eat, what they miss from home. Joe mentions a secret assignment he has been given. Charlie writes about how his parents are doing, how the town has changed and how much his misses his older brother. This story takes place around D-Day. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: This book is a really good introduction to war stories at the elementary level. It does talk about some specific events and the details are accurate. It has some exciting moments, like when Joe captures a spy. Both brothers are dealing with issues of bullying, which I think reflects what a young reader might be going through. The librarian in me noticed when Charlie wrote, “But if you didn’t like having me for a brother, you wouldn’t have stuck up for me those times when Jed was making fun of me because I’d rather read than run around causing trouble like he does.” You and me both, buddy 😉 This book does not contain any graphic details about the horrors of war, so it is appropriate for younger readers. The cover is really eye catching and I think is appropriate for younger readers and older readers who need more practice. It’s a good Hi-Lo choice for history teachers to be able to supplement any units about World War II. The point of view changes with each character’s letter, so that style of writing will challenge readers who were just expecting a narrative. It would be a good addition to a school library and used for a war book display. It would make for a good fiction suggestion to go along with non-fiction books about the war. Some of the reviews were hard on the author for taking liberties with a secret mission being detailed and not censored by the military, but I think it’s appropriate for elementary/middle grade fiction. It would be hard to work the exciting story of inflatable tanks into the letters without taking some writing liberties. I think the benefit to readers outweighs the author leaving this information out in order to be historically accurate. It’s a great choice for budding war buffs.

Author's Twitter: @MarcTNobleman
Publisher's Twitter: @scholastic
Author's Website:
Reviewer's Twitter: @kjanek

Grow up, David!, written by David Shannon, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

David is back with his adventures. Readers will see David trying to hang out with his older brother, but still getting in a lot of trouble. David’s big brother always said that David was too little. He got kicked out of the tree house, picked on, took things he should not have, and got into fights with his older brother. But in the end, readers will see that David’s brother really does love him. He just does not show it often.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This book continues the story from the other David books. It can definitely be a stand alone read. It’s a great book for readers who have older siblings that pick on them. David’s facial expressions will make readers giggle and nod in sympathy. You feel for the little guy as he gets his face pushed out of the tree house with his older brothers foot. David is a messy kid and I feel like that is conveyed in the authors illustrations. The colors are bright and appealing to young readers. While the main characters are boys and very reflective of the behavior of young boys, all readers will laugh along with his antics. This is a good purchase for a K-2 school library collection. It is a very fast read if it was to be read aloud, but if you just have 5 minutes, you can get through this read aloud. I think it could encourage readers to share their sibling stories of if anyone has ever made them feel excluded. If you are in the IB PYP world, you can discuss with students how David is a risk-taker.

Barnacle is Bored, written by Jonathan Fenske, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Barnacle is the main character and the facial expressions along with the words make it very clear that Barnacle is very bored. His life is the same every day. The routine does not change very much. He sits stuck to the pier taking the day and night as it comes. Barnacle envies some of the fish that swim by because they look like they are playing and having a lot of fun. It’s like an ocean party. Until a scary eel comes by and eats one of the fish. Barnacle decides his life is not so bad.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This book will appeal to Baby Shark fans and possibly even Octonaut fans because of the Barnacle. I guess it is slightly dark humor since the fish gets eaten by a predator, but the fish ends up being bored in the eels tummy. So, I guess he is not dead? It was a relief to me to not have to explain that. But my little reader sure did think Barnacle was funny. This book is a great buy for PreK - 2nd grade school library collections. It makes for a good read aloud. Kids will love it! The colors in the illustrations will remind you of the ocean. The pages are not cluttered, so they will appeal to readers who want to study the details of facial expressions. It would be a good book to put on an ocean book display or a summer themed one. There are lots of possibilities for sea-themed literacy crafts to go along with this story. I also think the text in the speech bubbles will be fun for emerging readers to repeat.

Plankton is Pushy, written by Jonathan Fenske, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Plankton is our main character who is swimming around trying to make friends. When he gets to Mister Mussel, he does not get any sort of response. Plankton tries a variety of ways to get Mister Mussel to respond. He is teaching Mussel how one is supposed to say “hello”. It is particularly amusing when Plankton starts to get annoyed, like by tapping a tiny fin on the water. Then Mister Mussel starts to open up his shell. Plankton keeps getting closer and closer...and then Mister Mussel EATS PLANKTON *nooooooooooooo! Then he says “¡Delicioso!” 

Straight Talk for Librarians: Well, I was worried that a small reader might be a tad upset that Mister Mussel ate Plankton, but my 4 year old squealed in delight. It was an exciting part of the story. The illustrations are hilarious and simple. This book will be perfect for any existing Baby Shark fan because it takes place in the ocean. If read with the right emotions, you will have young readers howling with laughter. This book is a great fit for a preK-lower elementary school library. It would make for a nice ocean book display. There is some new vocabulary to learn. The illustrator conveyed a lot of emotion through his color choices. When Plankton was super mad, the whole page was red. I think young readers will really enjoy this book.

Positive, written by Paige Rawl, reviewed by Bethany Bratney

Positive is the inspiring true story of Paige Rawl, an HIV-positive teen who becomes an activist for the HIV community and a champion against bullying. Rawl tells her story directly and specifically. She explains her first understanding of her HIV-positive status and the rigid medication regimen necessary to bolster her immune system. She reveals how her classmates and peers first became aware of her medical condition and the subsequent bullying that followed. She speaks with honest and composure about the decision to sue her former school district and the stress that the event put on her family.

 Straight Talk for Librarians: Rawl manages to find a perfect balance between sounding like a spokeswoman and sounding like a normal teenager. She has experienced tremendous adversity in her young life, but she never fails to include the small details that make her story authentic - clothing choices, song lyrics, happy moments with true friends. Her story translates into a meaningful message of hope for anyone struggling through difficulty or feeling alone, which makes it the perfect addition to a middle school or high school library collection. The story may connect to curriculum in health, sociology, or psychology courses, but is more likely to be used as an example in an anti-bullying program or as an excellent choice for nonfiction reading. There is no graphic or objectionable content, making this book appropriate for students as young as middle school. Good memoirs written by teenagers are hard to come by, and representation of people who are HIV-positive is even more difficult to find. A must purchase.

Penguin Day: A Family Story, written by Nic Bishop, review by Bethany Bratney

Nic Bishop has put together a gem. Penguin Day introduces southern rockhopper penguins to young readers through a narrative surrounding one penguin family: mother, father, and baby. Every day, Mama penguin goes off to search for food while Papa and Baby remain with the flock. Readers learns about the southern rockhoppers’ habitat, diet, daily life, predators and family groupings through a sweet story that is easy for even the youngest readers to understand. The story even includes an important lesson for children about not wandering away from their parents.

Straight Talk for Librarians: Bishop’s illustrative and stunning photographs are featured on each page, giving each member of the penguin family a face and personality. Penguin Day has enough of a story to be read aloud to a group or shared with just one child as a lap read. My home test subjects (ages 2 & 5) were instantly captivated by the beautiful pictures and managed to learn a lot about southern rockhopper penguins in the process. This book also falls into the special category of books that adults won’t mind reading repeatedly. Animal books are an easy sell, but this one is exceptional.

Hey Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family, written by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, reviewed by Bethany Bratney

Hey, Kiddo is a graphic memoir. The author captures his most formative experiences and memories from childhood through his high school graduation. Central to his story is his complicated relationship with his mother, who struggled with addiction and spent a good portion of his childhood in prisons or treatment facilities. His mother's absence led Jarrett to be raised by his grandparents, who were not without their own flaws, but provided him a safe and healthy home. They also encouraged him to pursue his love of art, paying for classes at the Worcester Art Museum and sending him to art school after graduation.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This book perfectly captures Krosoczka's inspiring story (and incredible artwork), allowing readers to see how family, friends, challenges, and artistic passion came together in an imperfect, but beautiful package to make him the person that he is today. The artwork has a somber feel to it, largely in part to the limited color scheme of black, white and rusty orange. Krosoczka includes scanned images of objects and artifacts from his childhood, including many letters and drawings received from his mother, that add further depth and sentimentality to his drawings. But the story is what will really capture readers. Watching young Jarrett make sense of the big things that were happening in his small world, seeing the expression expertly drawn on his face, will pull at the reader’s heartstrings. There are frequent references to drugs and alcohol, which are central to the narrative, and some swearing, so this book better for mature middle school and high school readers. It may work as supplementary reading in a psychology class, or fit into English curriculum when students are studying memoirs. Even if it is not required reading, kids will gravitate toward this accessible and moving story on their own. It is a remarkable example of a young person coming through tremendous adversity and a perfect specimen of the power of art in our lives.

Girl Made of Stars, written by Ashley Herring Blake, reviewed by Bethany Bratney

Mara has just broken up with her girlfriend, Charlie. Since Charlie was her best friend before they started dating, Mara’s newfound loneliness is two-fold. Fortunately, Mara will always have Owen, her twin brother. He has always been the one person who could comfort and calm Mara when things were at their worst. But when Owen’s girlfriend, who is also a friend of Mara’s, accuses him of date rape, Mara does not know who or what to believe. Her beloved brother could never do such a terrible thing, but Hannah would never lie about something so serious. Mara tries to navigate her relationships with Owen, Hannah and Charlie while also dealing with a deep trauma that she has been trying to forget until this point.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This book is definitely intense in terms of subject matter, diving hard into issues of consent, date rape and sexual abuse. These heavy subject matters are handled respectfully and with the necessary gravity, but it may be a bit too much for less mature readers. Mara’s sexual orientation and relationship with Charlie are almost as central to the plot as the situation with Owen, giving readers a realistic opportunity to see LGBTQ+ characters struggling with issues both including and outside of their sexual identity. This book might make an interesting choice on a reading list for a class like Contemporary Relationships or Sociology, but it will more likely be discovered as an independent reading option. The fact that this book contains multiple traumas may draw in readers who have found themselves in similar situations, possibly warranting a trigger warning, but quality content that will promote conversations about sexual assault and consent should be welcomed, not avoided. Recommended for mature high school readers.

Confessions from the Principal's Kid, written by Robin Mellom, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary:  Allie West is a 5th grader and Mountain Crest Elementary and her mom is the principal there. She has to go to school early and she leaves late; on her mom’s schedule. Allie has a stay at home dad who pursues woodworking as a way to do something he loves and make money. Allie lost her best friend Chloe because she accidentally tattled on her best friend. Allie feels like she is not as accepted anymore because her mom went from being a teacher to being a principal and things changed. She does become close to the other teacher’s children who have to stay after school until their parent is done working. They call themselves The Afters. She helps the janitor, counts cans for the lunch lady, let’s herself in and out of the library whenever she wants. But when school starts, Allie wants to be normal and does not talk to the school employees or The Afters.This double life starts to get in her way and she begins to question what is really important in her life.
Straight Talk for Librarians:  I think this book is a really good book for upper elementary readers. It addresses being different, standing up to bullies, knowing who your real friends are, small things that happen can have a big impact on certain individuals. Sometimes it helps to talk things out instead of assuming everyone knows what you are feeling. I think you would be hard pressed to find anything objectionable in this story. It’s gentle realism, but the plot twist at the end gets pretty exciting.This would be a good choice for any reader who has to go to school where their parent works. It would make a good addition to the school library and would be a perfect fit on a back to school book display. The cover art is attractive and appeals to both boys and girls. It’s a sweet book with a satisfying ending. I definitely recommend it for any reader looking for school stories.

This Raging Light, written by Laurie Estelle, reviewed by Stephanie Wilson

Lucille's life is falling apart. Her dad went crazy and her mom's "two-week vacation" stretches into months without contact. Lucille is left to raise her younger sister Wren, find a way to provide for them, and keep anyone from finding out. Just when Lucille thinks her life can't get any more complicated, she falls in love with her best friend's twin brother, Digby. Digby already has a serious long-term girlfriend. Laure has created a heartfelt novel teens will love. Lucille is tough, funny and resilient but far from perfect.

Lucille serves as both narrator and protagonist. Lucille longs for connection and someone to confide in. She keeps everyone, including her best friend, at arm’s length because she fears being separated from Wren. Laure's writing mirrors the tension Lucille feels as she struggles to keep it together. Wren’s optimism provides the perfect counterpoint to Lucille’s despair. Wren believes things will get better because of her youth and inexperience. Wren watches cooking shows and plans elaborate meals in an attempt to restore a bit of normalcy to their lives. The characters are well rounded and even the minor characters are memorable.

The plot moves at a rapid-fire pace, which increases its readability. This Raging Light’s format features shorter chapters with chapter headings, which clarifies when the action occurs. Some of the chapters are flashbacks to past events and the rest unfold in real time. The dramatic life events will appeal to readers looking for a story with an edge. The novel is best suited for more mature readers. It contains romantic elements, skipping school, references to alcohol, smoking, domestic abuse and mental illness. This Raging Light could be used in a psychology class to spark discussions about mental illness and analyze the different coping styles of Lucille, Wren and their parents. The novel’s smaller size and readability make it an excellent choice for reluctant or striving readers.

Dive! World War II Stories of Sailors & Submarines in the Pacific, written by Deborah Hopkinson, reviewed by Stephanie Wilson

Japanese strategists sought to take the United States out of the war by severely crippling its naval forces. They wanted to strike one decisive blow early in the war. The bombing of Pearl Harbor ends up mobilizing the war effort instead of destroying the will to fight. The small division of submarines stationed in the Pacific escapes the attack on Pearl Harbor virtually unscathed. The submarines become key in disrupting the supply lines to the Japanese troops and Japanese shipping. Improved, more reliable torpedoes give the submarines the ability to cripple or sink Japanese ships in greater numbers. These sustained losses by the Japanese turn the tide of the war.

Hopkinson uses photographs, first person eyewitness accounts and declassified government documents to tell the story of U.S. submarines and their pivotal role in the winning the war in the Pacific during World War II. The chapters are short and loaded with photographs, drawings and short sections, which offer supplemental information. Events are presented in chronological order. The book also lists multiple websites for readers interested in learning more. The websites cover a variety of topics, including submarine design and weaponry, battles won and lost and daily life on a submarine. Many of the surviving submarines found new life as tourist attractions, including the U.S.S. Silversides permanently docked in Muskegon, MI. Hopkinson also shares humorous tales of several dogs smuggled on board various submarines and a captain’s quest to secure an ice cream machine for his crew.

Dive! World War II Stories of Sailors & Submarines in the Pacific supports non-fiction reading assignments and curriculum units on World War II.  The stories reflect the realities of war in an age-appropriate manner for middle school and high school students. The stories are interesting, powerful and ultimately encouraging.  The high reading level may present a challenge for struggling readers. The multitude of photographs supporting the text and the compelling stories will appeal to reluctant readers. Students with an interest in stories about World War II, naval battles and submarines will gravitate to this book.  Dive! World War II Stories of Sailors & Submarines in the Pacific does not contain any objectionable language. It does include references to drinking alcohol, smoking and detailed descriptions of naval battles which include loss of life. The descriptions are central to the essence of the book and not gratuitous.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Flip & Fin: Super Sharks to the Rescue! by Timothy Gill review by Klaudia Janek

Flip and Fin are sand shark twins. One wears red shorts and one wears green shorts. Their tv superheroes are Sammy Saw Shark and Harry Hammerhead who save the day. They are “faster than a sailfish! Tougher than a clamshell!” Flip and Fin want to save the day as well, so they go off on looking for adventure. There is lots of zipping and flipping. They find a human ball and decide to go return it. However, the human swimmers are really scared of sharks and they all run out of the water. The sharks think the humans are afraid of the ball. Flip and Fin congratulate themselves on a job well done in saving the humans. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: This book is a fun and silly tale about a misunderstanding. Little readers will laugh out when they realize that humans are really afraid of the sharks and not the ball. The illustrations are bright and colorful, setting a friendly tone. Flip and Fin imagine themselves to be superheroes as little readers are sure to do. The emotions illustrated in shark and human faces are very expressive. You can easily tell when someone is scared and when they are having fun. This story is really very “fliptastic” and “fliptacular”. Baby Shark fans will be most excited about a shark book. The last page of the book has lots of facts about sand sharks. I think young readers will be really interested in those. This book would be great for an independent reading choice, a classroom read aloud, an ocean or shark book display. Shark stories seem to be pretty timeless, so you can’t go wrong with this purchase for your school library. 

Illustrator’s Twitter: @neilnumberman
Publisher’s Twitter: @GreenwillowBook
Illustrator's website:
Reviewer's Twitter: @kjanek

Horizon: Deadzone (book 2) by Jennifer Nielsen book review by Klaudia Janek

Jennifer Nielsen is the 2nd author to continue the Horizon series started by Scott Westerfeld. This is definitely not a stand-alone book. A reader would be pretty lost if they did not start with the first book. In this book, Molly becomes the leader and works on doing what is best for the group. Yoshi reveals some of his secrets and readers will get to know him a little bit better. The group decides to leave the jungle and make the trek across the Blood Sand, which comes with a lot of danger. The group realizes that they are on earth, but they still can’t explain the strange rift. They have technology which helps them alter gravity, which has led the group to survive some dangerous circumstances. The laws of physics are different in what they now think is a purposefully created environment. The story ends on a cliffhanger, but it’s the perfect set up for the third book. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: I’m really glad that I had the 2nd book because I was dying to continue it after the first one. As a librarian, I would just tell my students to check out the 2nd one if they are checking out the first one. There is a little bit of humor sprinkled throughout the story, especially as they come up with trying to name things (like plants and animals). It’s still suspenseful, action-packed and mysterious. Readers will get more insight into the characters. More sensitive readers should be aware that there is grief and loss, but how the characters deal with it may give readers some tools into dealing with their own emotions. I do think this book will appeal to a wide audience of middle-grade readers. It is a good addition to the school library. This book would be a good fit for a “Survival” book display. There are multiple perspectives, so readers will be exposed to that writing style. I like the cover and the attention to detail on the inside pages. It’s kind of like a messy spaceship log. There are not a lot of professional reviews found for this book, which I think happens a lot for series books. Don’t let the lack of reviews stop you from buying this series. This one really is very good and I’ve been enjoying it. I think middle-grade readers will too!

Author’s Twitter: @nielsenwriter 

Publisher’s Twitter: @scholastic 
Author's Website: 
Reviewer's Twitter: @kjanek

Horizon by Scott Westerfeld book review by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This is the first book in a planned 7 book series. Author Scott Westerfeld came up with the idea and wrote the outline. He also wrote the first book. The main characters include Molly, Javier, Anna, Oliver, Caleb, Yoshi, Kira and Akiko and we meet them as they are flying to Japan. Some of the characters are part of Team Killbot and they are headed to a robotics competition. They are on Aero Horizon Flight 16 and when the plane goes down, they are somewhere over the Arctic Circle. When the survivors gather, they notice they are in a jungle as opposed to the Arctic and their surroundings do not resemble plants and animals typically found on earth. They focus on pulling together and surviving. They also have to keep their emotions in check because the plane had 500 people on it and they cannot let grief consume them. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: I have to admit that I have had this book in my TBR pile for a while now. As a reader, I just did not feel ready to delve into a series. While I love the author, I did not want to be disappointed by a formulaic series. Well...I can tell you that this is NOT a formulaic series. It is SO good that I have not been able to stop thinking about it. The world building is outstanding and Westerfeld lives up to the amazing world building in his other books. The characters are deep as well as diverse. Kira and Akiko speak only Japanese and French. They cannot communicate with the others in English, so Yoshi who is half Japanese and half Caucasian American has to be the translator. A job he does not relish. They all have interesting backstories. The characters who are on the robotics team have a lot of engineering skills. Anna is a good example of a character who is being developed to not being very good with people and emotions. However, her science knowledge and analytical skills are very useful to the group and to survival. 

There is definitely mystery, adventure, suspense, danger and death. Nothing is too graphic, so most younger readers will be ok. With this first book, readers will be trying to figure out if they are on earth or somehow got transported to a different planet. This is a multiplatform series, so each book has a clue for the online game that can be accessed through Scholastic’s website or with a downloadable app. The covers are appealing to all kinds of readers. The planned variety of authors has me excited to continue the series. I think this series is a good addition to a middle-grade school library.

Author's Twitter: @ScottWesterfeld
Author's Website:
Publisher's Twitter: @scholastic
Author Agent: @JillGrinbergLit

Reviewer's Twitter: @kjanek

Friday, May 17, 2019

Be Bold, Baby! Michele Obama by Alison Oliver book review

This is a board book biography made for the youngest readers. The message is positive, inspiring and nice. It contains some quotes by Michelle Obama. It contains illustrations of Michelle Obama learning, working and enjoying life in different ways. On the last page a mirror is included so that babies and toddlers can see themselves in the book with an exclamation of “Be You!.” It works for a fun read aloud book.

Straight Talk for Librarians: I think the illustrator did a really nice job with bold and bright colors. The colors tend to be more earth tones, so it’s not overpowering and distracting. Obama is surrounded by lots of children in the pictures. I love the mirror at the end. I think it is very entertaining for young readers. Some of the words are bigger words, but can easily be explained through the illustrations. There are some author’s notes at the end of the book with a bit more of a biographical overview of Michelle Obama. I think readers will become interested in it as they develop more language skills. It’s just a really cute book and I am glad that I got a copy. It’s a great choice for a pre-K school library or classroom. Readers will be able to see themselves in some of the illustrations that portray a lot of diversity.

Author website:
Publisher Twitter: @HMHKids
Reviewer Twitter: @kjanek
Reviewed by: Klaudia Janek

Thursday, May 16, 2019

When Jackie Saved Grand Central Station, written by Natasha Wing, review by Caroline Rabideau

"When Jackie Saved Grand Central" is an adorable book that came at just the right time for me. My students will soon be heading to Washington DC for our yearly field trip adventure. This will be my second year chaperoning, and I’m filling big shoes. When I was in school, I had the greatest history teacher, who made American history thrilling and exciting. She filled the days with picture books packed with facts and videos giving image to what life could have been like for former presidents. We were so excited by departure time.

So here I am, gearing up for my second year as a chaperone when I found this book on our Libres shelf. "When Jackie Saved Grand Central," written by Natasha Wing and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger, illuminates Lady Kennedy’s struggle to change laws and rally a group of people dedicated enough to restore Grand Central Station in New York. Early in the Kennedy presidency, it is known that she oversaw major upgrades throughout the White House, making it more inviting and highlighting our American history throughout the building. When Grand Central Station in New York was in need of the same treatment some years later, she not only oversaw the committee that made the final developments, but took a front line approach, writing directly to mayors, leading press conferences, and rallying all the way back to Washington in order to raise awareness of the importance of historical state landmarks. Finally, the Supreme Court supported New York’s Landmark’s Law, preventing Grand Central Station from being destroyed. Once her victory had been won, restoration began. She was never able to see its completion, due to her passing in 1994, but because of her, Grand Central was saved.

I was so touched by this book that I wanted to go see if it was true. Sure enough, I found article after article talking about both the White House restoration, as well as the Grand Central Station battle and restoration. Reporters praised her hard work and effort to do what was best for the community and for history. I have printed a number of articles and attached them inside the back cover of the book, in case any of my students would like to dig deeper into this story.

I am excited to make this my first book on my Washington DC list. I think this will be a great book to read before we visit the Kennedy graves and talk about the influence their family had on our country. The Washington DC trip is inspirational in so many ways for our students, teaching them all that they can make a difference. One person CAN make a difference. When Jackie Saved Grand Central Station really illustrates that. As a former first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy was able to use her name, her history, and her problem solving skills to make a difference that will touch people for years and generations to come.  

Monday, May 13, 2019

A Vroom and a Zoom by Emma J. Virján book review

A Pig in a Wig book- What This Story Needs is a Vroom and a Zoom by Emma J. Virján  

This book was mailed to my sweet little reader with a note and some stickers.  When we finish reading the book and reread the note, she puts everything away neatly in the envelope and hides it in her room because it's so special.  Each time we read it, we go through it at least five times.  So, I would say she enjoys it very much. This is a great buy for a preK - 1 school library collection.  I think young readers will enjoy the whole series.  If you happen to be in an IB school, it's perfect for introducing PYP students to the Learner Profile attribute of being a risk-taker.  Pig is bold and determined.

Pig in a Wig is back! This time, Pig wakes up, goes "rushing to her car, dashing into place," for a big race. Pig takes the lead and it's very exciting. Young readers will gasp at the suspense and teamwork will pay off in the end.  The brightly colored illustrations and fun rhymes will make this an attractive pick for the youngest readers.  It makes for a good read aloud.  It is also a good book to ask young readers to retell it in their own words.

I had to record the excitement of reading this book because that is a better book review than I could ever write 😊

Here is the official book trailer:

Authors Twitter: 
Authors website:
Publisher Twitter: @HarperChildrens

Reviewed by Klaudia Janek @kjanek on Twitter

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser

I fell in love with the Vanderbeekers the first time around, so I was thrilled to read their next story. This is the 2nd book in this series and while it could be a standalone story, I think readers will want all the background from the first story. Oliver, Laney, Jessie, Isa (who is away at camp) and Hyacinth are enjoying time with Mr. Biederman, Miss Josie and Mr. Jeet, when all of a sudden Mr. Jeet collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. Because of Miss Josie’s and Mr. Jeet’s interest in gardening, the Vanderbeekers wanted to do something special with a garden. This story is about their plan to turn a vacant piece of land in the city into a beautiful garden. They realize that gardening is not an easy feat and costs time, money and lots of hard work.

Straight Talk for Librarians: What stands out to me in this story is the kindness that the characters show each other. There is conflict and tension, but most of the trouble the Vanderbeekers get into comes from a place of love. I think this will be a very popular book in your school library, especially if your readers love the first one. The Vanderbeeker kids have a very close relationship with their parents and they all work together to overcome different challenges. They are also close with their neighbors and love the community that they live in. It really is very heartwarming. I think this is a perfect book for free choice in an ELA classroom. It will appeal to readers of realistic fiction. It could have some some very powerful curriculum connections in schools that have established a community garden and where students are learning about how to eat, farm to table. This book would be great on a themed display for spring or summer. It could be paired with non-fiction gardening and fruits/vegetable books. If you are in an IB school, all the attributes of the Learner Profile could be divided amongst the well-rounded and colorful characters in this book. For example, Jessie is a great example of being an inquirer and knowledgable. She is proud of her hard work at school and she excels at physics. They are all very principled, caring and risk-takers. They took a risk when they decided to embark on their gardening journey. I love the illustrations sprinkled throughout the book and I think that will appeal to the more visual thinkers. This is just a great middle grade read and will contribute to engaging all kinds of readers and developing that empathy that we try to instill in our learners. Buy this for your middle grade readers!

Authors Twitter: @KarinaYanGlaser
Authors Website:

Reviewed by Klaudia Janek: @kjanek

Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart book review

Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys is on a rocky outcropping in the sea, accessible only by boat. It would be impossible to swim to shore because of the rough waters. Jonathan Grisby is the newest arrival at Slabhenge and it does not start off great. He’s cold, tired and hungry. It just gets worse when he is singled out by the adults. There are eight adults in charge of this so-called school, that used to be a mental institution, so it resembles a prison more than a school. As the story goes on, the boys find themselves without supervision and have to agree on their new found freedom. The story is suspenseful, thrilling, mysterious and dangerous. This was one of those books that was impossible to put down and there was no going to bed until it was finished.

Straight Talk for Librarians: The author did so many things in this book that stood out to me. One of the things I loved was the references to stories, where the boys found themselves in a similar situation: Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island and Moby-Dick. I think the references to these books will make some enthusiastic readers seek these older titles out. There are also a lot of emotional moments that these boys deal with. Some are heart breaking, but might help some readers identify with these characters. Clearly, some of the boys made some bad choices and that is why they ended up at a reform school, but it doesn’t have to define who they become. Maybe readers will see that it’s a good thing to open up and talk about their feelings and emotions with friends who don’t judge them. A lot of educators are talking about social and emotional learning and this book would be a good tie into a non-preachy, suspenseful, adventurous kind of way. This would be a great book to put into the hand of a student heading “up north” in Michigan because of the lighthouse. How fun is it to read a story about a lighthouse, while visiting one??? If you are in an IB school, there are so many characters that can lead to an amazing discussion on the different attributes of the Learner Profile. For example, Colin was very principled in his stance and didn’t waver on his belief. He was knowledgeable about a lot of things and he was very caring because he looked out for his friends. This is also a great choice for readers who love a fast-paced, heart pounding adventure. This is a great purchase for a middle school library.

Author Twitter: @DanGemeinhart
Author Website:
Publisher Twitter: @Scholastic

Review by Klaudia Janek @kjanek

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Giver: The Graphic Novel review by Caroline Rabideau

It has been many years since I read Lois Lowry’s “The Giver”. I remember reading it when I was young and not really understanding the impact of the book, I just thought it was weird. I’m now working in the company of great teachers who do a great job of helping our students understand the meaning and impact of “The Giver” when they read it with their 7th grade classes. My students all really love the book once they finish it in class. So, upon finding the graphic novel, I thought it would be worth trying it again.

The graphic novel version of “The Giver,” adapted by P. Craig Russell, so clearly illustrates the events in the book, it left me nothing but impressed. I read both the original story and the graphic novel side by side, and was blown away by the amount of text from the original book Russel was able to incorporate into the graphic novel, a task I’m sure is not easy to complete. Even the chapters begin and end with the same scenes and often direct quotes, and yet somehow in the graphic novel they flow so clearly, one to the net, that your eyes don’t ever want to leave the page.

The graphic novel gives a new image to the pictures that were in our brains when we read the story as students. While no one in Jonas’ city is allowed to brag or feel pride for an accomplishment, we can now see, through drawings showing her body language, that Lily is proud when she turns eight. We can see Jonas’ anguish when he realizes his friend, the giver is suffering. And visual learners are able to clearly see the differences in ages. As Jonas’ skill grows and he sees more color, the illustrations grow in color along with the story, only enhancing what he is seeing, as well as the reader’s experience. My only negative about the book was, because it is a graphic novel adaptation, it is meant to be shorter than the book. As a result, some of Jonas’ thoughts are shortened; some of the conversations are left out. I found, as I reread the book, that these experiences were a part of my empathy for Jonas. Without them, my first impression of him as a character was that he was a jerk, and very full of himself, treating his sister poorly and being cold to his family.

From an illustrative standpoint, the art is beautiful. For the first half of the book, as Jonas only sees black and white, Russel chose to use a combination of pencil shading and ink to give it a more realistic depth and interest. Things like Jonas’ eyes, the giver’s eyes, and Gabriel’s eyes, as well as minute highlights are given such a subtle blue highlight that it almost seems it’s not there. As Jonas becomes aware of color, Russel incorporates more colors in order, beginning with red, sometimes faintly adding it to a specific object, and sometimes flooding an entire image with brilliant color. By the end of the story, Jonas is able to view nature in full, yet not brilliant color, as his training had not been fully completed. The awareness is as much for Jonas as the reader. I found I was suddenly surprised by the change from black and white to color. The transition was so seamless that I was unaware of it until I began to think about it.

I believe this graphic novel will become a great tool for teachers who are showing their students “The Giver” for the first time. Because it can be read alongside the book, teachers could show the pages on a smart board or other document projector while they were reading the text from the original. This would be a great way for visual learners to connect with the text, in addition to what they see in their imagination. Though it is not a supplement for the text, I think it was beautifully and carefully illustrated and does a great job of featuring the story while adding illustrations. I highly recommend this book to anyone teaching ‘The Giver,” or any student who, like me, struggled to understand and comprehend the series of events in the story.

Illustrator Website:

Lois Lowry Twitter: @LoisLowryWriter
Publisher Twitter: @HMHCo
Review by Caroline Ribideau